All Blacks in sight of coveted World Cup

Updated: 2011-10-18 08:12

(China Daily)

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 All Blacks in sight of coveted World Cup

New Zealand All Black flanker Richie McCaw (left) tackles Wallaby Anthony Faingaa in their Rugby World Cup semifinal at Eden Park in Auckland on Sunday. Gabriel Bouys / Agence France-Presse

New Zealanders breathe a sigh of relief after defeating Australia

AUCKLAND - New Zealand was at peace with itself on Monday after the All Blacks savaged Australia to power into a World Cup final where it will start as overwhelming favorite against France.

This rugby-obsessed nation was on edge ahead of Sunday's semifinal, fretting over 24 years without the Webb Ellis Cup and concerns regarding the fitness of hero captain Richie McCaw.

But the All Blacks swept away any doubts with a masterful 20-6 defeat of the Wallabies to setup what will be a rematch of the inaugural World Cup final this coming Sunday which, then as now, was staged at Eden Park.

The All Blacks were too strong for France in 1987, winning 29-9, and have given every indication they will be again in the climax of this World Cup.

France has been tagged the worst team in the tournament's history to qualify for the showpiece match after clinging to a 9-8 win over 14-man Wales in Saturday's other semi-final.

But New Zealand coach Graham Henry, all but vindicated after surviving calls to be sacked following the team's shattering World Cup quarterfinal loss four years ago, has tried to temper the national euphoria.

"The job hasn't been done yet," Henry said. "I think it's really important that we understand that and that we get our feet back on the ground over the next two days and build again for this test.

"It's a huge game of rugby. We've got a lot of history with France in the Rugby World Cup and we respect them."

New Zealand has conquered France once already in this tournament, during a 37-17 pool win, but Henry will need no reminding Les Bleus remain a World Cup bogey team for the All Blacks.

New Zealand fans were inconsolable after a stunning 20-18 loss to France in the 2007 quarterfinals in Cardiff.

Previously, France denied the All Blacks an appearance in the 1999 final with an incredible fightback to win 43-31 at Twickenham.

While the All Blacks' Eden Park fortress remains all but impregnable, it was France which was the last visting team to win in Auckland in 1994, sealing victory with the breathtaking 'try from the end of the world', one of rugby's greatest all-time scores.

France continues to thrive despite a combination of player unrest and challenges to coach Marc Lievremont's authority that would have destabilized many other sides.

No sooner had Lievremont defiantly insisted France was worthy of a place in the final, despite Wales scoring the only try of the match when a man down, than he was publicly castigating his players for defying team orders and partying on after their semifinal win.

"I asked the players not to go out and I learned a little later some of them did," Lievremont said.

Agence France-Presse

(China Daily 10/18/2011 page23)